Like most Maryland-born residents, Kevin Shird has a story to tell.
Raised in West Baltimore and in poverty, Shird dealt drugs at the age of 16 and later spent nearly a dozen years in prison — ironically, the place where he said he first developed his writing skills.
“There, I started helping other inmates who either didn’t know how to read or didn’t know how to write, and later I became an instructor in a prison GED program helping guys get their GED before they were released,” he said.
Today, Shird is a three-time published author, writer, and social activist and he has many talking about his latest book, “The Colored Waiting Room: Empowering the Original and the New Civil Rights Movements; Conversations Between an MLK Jr. Confidant and a Modern-Day Activist.”
As the editors at Apollo Publishers note, the 240-page book features extraordinary conversations between a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and Shird, who’s known as a modern-day activist.
It leads to the game-changing realizations that a second-wave civil rights movement is unfolding and the lessons of the past to effect lasting change must be now be embraced.
“It’s a book that talks about civil rights then and social justice now, how we connect the dots between yesterday and today,” Shird said. “Back then, there was the KKK. Today, there is the white nationalists. Back then, it was the murder of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and Jimmy Lee Jackson. Today, we have the unjust killing of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray.
“Back then there was the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and today there is the Charleston church massacre in South Carolina,” he said. “The similarities are eerie.”
The book also tells the story of Nelson Malden, who once served as King’s personal barber.
“I was inspired to write the book after meeting [Malden] when he was visiting Baltimore in 2016,” Shird said. “He gave me his telephone number and I called him a few days later and we began talking about the time he spent with Dr. King in Montgomery. He also began to talk about the Jim Crow laws and how they negatively affected African Americans during those years.”
A short time later, Shird visited Montgomery where he and Malden toured historical sites like King’s former home, the corner where Rosa Parks was arrested on the bus and other significant places.
“While I was there I became even more inspired to travel down the long road to write this book, which took about 10 months,” Shird said. “I realized at that time that this would be a very important book at a very important time in America.”
Malden counted as the first Black man to ever run for political office in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. Before 1966 no Black man had ever run for political office.
Shird said that was a very important time in Montgomery, the epicenter of the American civil rights movement.
“Nelson put his life on the line during a very important time in American history,” Shird said.
Born in Pensacola, Florida, and an Alabama State College graduate, Malden cut King’s hair for more than a decade and he opened the Malden Brothers barbershop with family members in 1954.
“Because of segregation, the Black barber was a very important place where Blacks congregated,” Shird said, adding that Malden also worked distributing the Southern Carrier newspaper, one of just a handful of newspapers in the South during the Jim Crow era that was geared towards the concerns of Black people.
Shird, who’s currently finalizing a deal to become lead screenwriter on an as-yet-titled Hollywood film, said he believes his latest book can help young ones connect the dots between today and history.
“I’m hoping that this book will help motivate African Americans to activate and stay engaged by either voting, protesting and organizing,” he said. “I really feel like this is a great time to be Black in America and an opportunity to make a historical difference. It’s a great time to rise up and become a leader in the community. A great time to embrace the young people around us and help them acquire their dreams. It’s a great time for the Black culture. We just have to believe in ourselves and our ability.”